Bluetooth connectivity is becoming more and more prevalent in headphones due, in large part, to the phasing-out of the headphone jack in mobile audio devices. If you’re one of the many who have switched to a pair of Bluetooth headphones or are eventually going to get a pair, this article will help you to understand how they work and how they connect wirelessly.
How do Bluetooth headphones work? Bluetooth headphones receive digital audio wirelessly via the Bluetooth protocol when paired with Bluetooth-enabled digital audio devices. BT headphones accept digital audio via BT wireless transmission; convert it analog audio; amplify it, and convert it into sound just as regular headphones would.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how Bluetooth headphones function and have a look at several BT headphone examples. We’ll also list out the step required to connect these headphones to the common audio devices in our everyday lives.
Table Of Contents
- Primer On How Headphones Work
- What Is Bluetooth Technology?
- How Do Bluetooth Headphones Work?
- How Is Audio Transmitted Via Bluetooth Technology?
- How Do Bluetooth Headsets Work?
- Bluetooth Headphone & Headset Examples
- How To Connect (Pair) Bluetooth Headphones To Bluetooth Audio Devices
- How To Put Bluetooth Headphones In Pairing Mode
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With Computers/Laptops Running Mac OS
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With Computers/Laptops Running Windows OS
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With iPhones
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With Android Smartphones
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With Playstations
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With Xbox
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With Smart TVs
- Pairing Bluetooth Headphones With Non-Bluetooth Audio Devices (With Bluetooth Adapters)
- Reconnecting Bluetooth Headphones
- Unpairing (Forgetting) Bluetooth Headphones
- How To Connect Non-Bluetooth Headphones To Bluetooth Sources
- How To Connect Multiple Bluetooth Headphones To A Single Audio Source
- Related Questions
Primer On How Headphones Work
Before we get into the bulk of this article, let’s quickly go over how headphones work.
After all, Bluetooth headphones are no different than regular headphones except for the wireless method in which they receive and send audio to their drivers (the method being Bluetooth technology).
The main purpose of a headphone is to act as a transducer that converts electrical energy (audio signals) into mechanical wave energy (sound waves). This is true of wired headphones, wireless headphones and Bluetooth wireless headphones.
Related article: What Is The Difference Between Sound And Audio?
Headphone drivers are the transducer elements found in headphones the turn audio into sound. Therefore, the key element of any pair of headphones is its pair of drivers.
For a comprehensive guide to headphone drivers, check out my article What Is A Headphone Driver? (How All 5 Driver Types Work).
Headphones of all types work when an analog audio signal (alternating current) passes through the driver and causes proportional movement in the driver’s diaphragm.
The diaphragm movement pushes and pulls the air around it and effectively produces sound waves that mimic the form of the AC voltage of the audio signal.
This critical action in headphone design is required regardless of the headphone’s form factor (how it’s shaped and worn); its driver type; how it receives its signal (wired or wireless), or any other specifications that differentiate one headphone from another.
For your information, the most common headphone driver type is the moving-coil dynamic driver.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) in one of many examples of a Bluetooth headphone with moving-coil dynamic drivers:
The moving-coil dynamic driver uses a conductive coil (tightly-wound wire) connected to a thin movable membrane. This coil passes the audio signal (AC voltage) and a coinciding magnetic field is produced within it and around it.
The varying magnetic field interacts with a permanent magnetic field supplied by the magnets in the driver and causes the coil and diaphragm to oscillate back and forth.
This causes the driver to produce sound waves that mimic the applied audio signal.
To learn more about moving-coil dynamic headphone drivers, in particular, check out my article Complete Illustrated Guide To Moving-Coil Dynamic Headphones.
Note that the audio signal driving the headphone driver must be a continuously variable voltage. This means that only analog audio signals can drive headphone drivers. This will become important when it comes time to explain the digital-to-analog converters (DACs) inherent in Bluetooth headphone design.
Related article: Are Headphones Analog Or Digital Audio Devices?
For an in-depth article on how headphones work, check out My New Microphone’s post titled How Do Headphones Work? (Illustrated Guide For All HP Types).
What Is Bluetooth Technology?
Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard. It is used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances using short-wavelength ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves.
More specifically, Bluetooth uses the microwave radio frequency spectrum in the 2.402 GHz to 2.480 GHz range to transmit digital data wirelessly.
Bluetooth technology is a deeply complex subject and we will only be scratching the surface in this article. If you’d like to learn about Bluetooth technology in greater detail, I’d suggest starting with this Wikipedia article.
The complexity of Bluetooth technology is due, in part, to its incredibly wide range of applications. Not only is Bluetooth used to transmit digital audio from digital devices to headphones (or speakers or headsets) but it is also implemented in the following wireless data transferring applications:
- Contol and communication between smartphones and other Bluetooth audio devices and Bluetooth-compatible car sound systems.
- Communication between a smartphone and a smart lock for unlocking doors.
- Communication between smartphones and other Bluetooth audio devices and Bluetooth-compatible wireless speakers.
- Communication between wireless Bluetooth headsets and intercoms/gaming systems/computers, etc.
- Streaming of data from Bluetooth-enabled fitness devices to smartphones/computers etc.
- Wireless networking between computers in close proximity.
- Communication between computers and their input/output devices (mouse, keyboard, printer, microphones, headphones, etc.).
- OBject EXchange transfer of files, contacts, calendars/schedules and reminders.
- Communications in test equipment, GPS receivers, medical equipment, bar code scanners, and traffic control devices.
- As a replacement for infrared wireless and wired RS-232.
- Sending advertisements from Bluetooth-enabled advertising hoardings to discoverable Bluetooth devices.
- Bridging between two Industrial Ethernet networks.
- Connecting wireless controllers and other accessories to gaming consoles such as the Sony Playstation.
- Dial-up internet access using data-capable Bluetooth-compatible smartphones as wireless modems.
- Short-range transmission of health sensor data from medical devices to smartphones and dedicated telehealth devices.
- Allowing Digital enhanced cordless telecommunication (DECT) phones ring and answer calls on behalf of Bluetooth-capable smartphone.
- Real-time location systems (RTLS) used to track and identify the location of objects in real-time.
- Personal security application on mobile phones for the prevention of theft or loss of items.
- Prediction of travel times and road congestion for motorists.
- Connection between motion controllers in virtual reality (VR) and computer
Though originally developed in 1989, the first iteration (version 1.0) of Bluetooth only came about in 1999 after the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the managing body, was formed in 1998.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group continues to improve upon the standard and releases new versions periodically. With each new version, the BSIG improves on three key factors (range, data speed and power consumption) along with whatever peripheral factors they see fit for improvement.
Every version of Bluetooth supports downward compatibility. This means that the latest standard will work with all older versions. The capabilities of a Bluetooth connection will be limited to the standard of the device with the oldest version of BT.
That is to say, a pair of Bluetooth 5.0 headphones will work perfectly fine with a Bluetooth 4.2 audio device. However, the connection will only be as good as the limitations of the 4.2 standard.
There are 3 classes of Bluetooth to be aware of (appropriately named Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3).
The class of a Bluetooth device determines the wireless range of the device as well as the maximum power limitation. The classes are described in the table below:
|Class||Typical Range||Maximum Power|
|Class 1||100 m|
|Class 1.5||20 m|
|Class 2||10 m|
|Class 3||1 m|
|Class 4||0.5 m|
Bluetooth profiles determine the kind of data that is exchanged using Bluetooth technology.
In order for two Bluetooth devices to be compatible, they must support the same profiles. These profiles allow for each of the applications mentioned above.
The profile that sends audio to Bluetooth headphones, for example, is the high-quality audio A2DP transmission profile. This profile has its own codecs to properly transmit audio signals wirelessly.
The A2DP Bluetooth profile is discussed in greater detail later in this article. Click here to skip ahead.
The profile that allows wireless communication between a computer and its Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, as another example, is the HID profile. The HID profile is not for sending audio and so Bluetooth headphones would not be designed to use the profile.
How Do Bluetooth Headphones Work?
Bluetooth headphones work just like typical wires headphones except for the way in which they receive audio signal.
Wired headphones receive their audio signals via hardwired headphone cables.
Related article: An In-Depth Look Into How Headphone Cables Carry Audio
Bluetooth headphones, as their name suggests, receive their audio signals wirelessly via Bluetooth.
In order to function properly with an audio device, a Bluetooth headphone must be paired (wirelessly connected) to the Bluetooth audio device. We’ll discuss how to pair Bluetooth headphones to various devices in the section titled How To Connect (Pair) Bluetooth Headphones To Bluetooth Audio Devices.
Once paired, the headphones and digital audio device form a Piconet in which the audio device may effectively send its audio signal to the headphones via Bluetooth.
Note that with headsets and smart headsets with voice assistant technology and pause/play controls will also send information back to the audio device via the Piconet.
Once the digital audio signal is received by the headphone’s Bluetooth receiver, it must pass through two key components before it can drive the headphone drivers.
First, because Bluetooth transmits digital audio, the received audio signal must be converted into an analog audio signal. This is done via a built-in digital-to-analog converter in the headphones.
Next, the coverter analog audio is sent through an amplifier. This effectively boosts the signal to a voltage level that can properly drive the headphone drivers while also properly matching the impedance of the signal for optimal driver performance.
Once the signal is passed through the driver, it is the driver’s job to produce sound waves that represent the audio signal. This is how we hear the information of an audio signal via Bluetooth headphones.
If you’ve skipped over or need to re-read this article’s primer on how headphones work, click here.
Before we get into the details of how audio is transmitted via Bluetooth, let’s have a broader look at how audio is transmitted from the digital audio device to the Bluetooth headphones and how the audio is then converted into sound waves for the listener to hear.
The signal flow from a Bluetooth audio device to a paired Bluetooth headphone to the listener’s ears is as follows:
- The Bluetooth-capable audio device plays a digital audio signal.
- This audio signal is encoded by a codec (typically SBC “Low Complexity Subband Code,” which is supported by all devices) in the A2DP transfer standard.
- This encoded audio signal is used as the modulating signal that modulates the Bluetooth UHF radio carrier signals.
- The radio carrier waves are transmitted wirelessly as per Bluetooth standards between the audio device’s BT transmitter and the Bluetooth headphone’s BT receiver.
- The Bluetooth receiver then decodes the modulation signal from the carrier wave.
- The A2DP encoded signal is then further decoded back to the intended digital audio signal (compression losses apply when encoding and decoding the signal).
- This digital audio signal is then converted into an analog format by the headphone’s built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
- The analog audio is then amplified by a built-in amplifier circuit.
- This amplified audio signal is then sent to the headphone drivers (note that stereo audio signals will be split at this point to drive their respective drivers).
- The driver transducers turn the analog audio signal(s) into sound waves.
- The listener (the person wearing the headphones) hears the sound waves.
That’s quite the signal flow for a technology that is so user-friendly. That’s part of the beauty of Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth technology in general: the engineers and inventors take care of the complexities and we can use the technology without thinking too deeply about it.
That being said, it’s good to have an idea of how audio is transmitted via Bluetooth technology in order to better understand Bluetooth headphones.
How Is Audio Transmitted Via Bluetooth Technology?
Let’s get a bit more technical in explaining how audio is transmitted via Bluetooth technology.
In this section, we’ll go into the following topics in more detail to further our understanding of Bluetooth technology and its role in transmitting audio wirelessly:
- The Piconet connection (pairing of the devices)
- The A2DP, AVRCP & Bluetooth Audio Codecs
- The Headset Profile (HSP)
- Continuously Variable Slope Delta Modulation
- Pulse Code Modulation
- Pulse-Shift Keying Modulation
- The RF frequencies of Bluetooth & frequency jumping
- Bluetooth range
- Battery usage
Please note that this is, by no means, a complete in-depth guide to Bluetooth technology.
A Piconet is a network that links devices wirelessly using Bluetooth technology.
Any given Piconet has two or more devices synchronized to the same Bluetooth channel. They share a common clock and frequency jumping sequence.
A piconet will allow one master devices to connect with up to seven active slave devices. Essentially this means in any piconet (in which there can be virtually unlimited in a give space) will have one device sending information and up to seven devices receiving information.
A common example of this is the computer, which will act as the master to multiple devices. We could have a mouse, keyboard and speaker all connected to a computer via Bluetooth. In this piconet, the computer would be the master and the other devices (whether input or output) would be slave devices.
So then, it would make sense that up to 7 different Bluetooth headphones could connect to a single audio source device in a piconet.
Well, unfortunately, there is more confusion to come. The technical reasonings are beyond the scope of this article but we’ll get into the philosophy behind why we cannot easily connect two BT headphones to a device at once.
First, we must remember that the Bluetooth standard is designed to be backward compatible. Therefore, the newest version of Bluetooth must be able to connect and work proficiently with the first version.
When Bluetooth was first designed, however, mobility wasn’t a huge concern and playing audio from smartphones would only come much later.
The original philosophy of Bluetooth was simply to remove the wire from common electrical connections between household devices. It aimed to rid of the wires in close-proximity device connections like the computer-keyboard and computer-mouse connections. It was designed to do so while consuming as little power as possible.
It basically comes down to the fact that most electric audio playback devices only had one output and Bluetooth was designed to allow that same single output only without wires.
Even today, our mobile devices that still have headphone jacks only have a single jack. Bluetooth is simply a short-range, low-power, wireless connectivity designed to do the same job as the single jack.
Of course, we have the technology today to change this but the bottom line is that changing basic features will negatively impact backward compatibility of Bluetooth.
That being said, there are definitely workarounds to allow multiple headphones to connect to a single audio device. More on these workarounds in the section How To Connect Multiple Bluetooth Headphones To A Single Audio Source.
The A2DP, AVRCP & Bluetooth Audio Codecs
The Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) is the Bluetooth standard profile for the transfer of high-quality stereo audio signals.
This profile is used between an A2DP source (the Bluetooth-enabled audio device) and a recipient. The recipient, in the case of this article, is the Bluetooth headphone but it can also be a BT speaker, car stereo system or other Bluetooth-enabled playback devices.
A2DP allows for 2-channel (stereo) audio transfer. It has mandatory support for the low-complexity SBC (Low Complexity Subband Code) codec along with many other codecs to effectively transfer audio.
A codec (a portmanteau of coder and decoder) is a device or program used to encode and/or decode a digital data stream or digital signal.
Digital audio is simply a digital representation of analog audio (which is an electrical representation of sound).
Digital audio can be stored in a wide variety of file formats. It is the codecs that are required to encoded and decoded these files. Codecs can effectively reduce the storage space and the bandwidth required for transmission of the stored audio file.
So while the mp3s, .wavs, FLAC, or other audio files on your audio device could certainly be used as the digital modulating signals in Bluetooth wirelss transmission, they are actually encoded according to one of the A2DP standard codecs (often SBC) before being transmitted wirelessly.
SBC compresses the audio signals and so it always worsens the quality. However, with a high data transfer rate of up to 345 kbps and a perfected algorithm, the loss is barely perceptible.
SBC has been a required codec in the Bluetooth A2DP standard since its introduction in 2003. Newer codecs have been introduced since then but for the sake of backward compatibility, SBC has been a requirement.
Other A2DP codecs include:
- aptX (Digital Audio Data Reduction Technology)
- aptX HD (Digital Audio Data Reduction Technology – High Definition)
- AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)
- LDAC (Lossy Digital Audio Codec)
The digital audio of a Bluetooth audio device will generally be encoded by one the above-listed codecs before being sent wirelessly to. thepaired BT headphones.
This A2DP profile is often used along with the AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile). This profile allows remote control of media playback on paired device devices. Supported functions are play, pause, stop, next, and previous.
Note that the Generic Audio/Video Distribution Profile (GAVDP) provides the basis for A2DP. It defines the roles of the Initiator and an Acceptor in the pairing of two Bluetooth devices.
The Initiator is the device that initiates a signalling procedure and the Acceptor is the device that shall respond to an incoming request from the Initiator.
The HSP (Headset Profile)
The HSP is one of the most commonly-used Bluetooth profiles. As the name would suggest, it provides support for BT headset for use with smartphones and gamin consoles.
The HSP does not transmit high quality stereo audio like the aforemention A2DP but it works perfectly well for voice.
This Headset Profile relies on the SCO (Synchronous Connection-Oriented) codec, which encoded audio in 64 kbps and transmits the audio wirelessly via CVSD (Continuously Variable Slope Delta Modulation) or PCM (Pulse Code Modulation).
SCO also allows for several controls including the functions of ringing; answering a call; hanging up, and adjusting the volume.
Continuously Variable Slope Delta Modulation
64 kbit/s CVSD is one of the options available for encoding and transmitting voice signals wirelessly in telephony-related Bluetooth profiles (such as the aforementioned HSP).
The 64 kHz sample-rate, 64 kbit/s delta modulation is an efficient way to encode audio when pristine audio quality is not overly important.
Pulse Code Modulation
PCM is the form of digital audio and so it makes sense that it would be used in some Bluetooth applications as well.
PCM effectively samples the amplitude of the analog signal at fixed intervals and quantizes the amplitude to the nearest value within a range of digital steps.
The resolution of PCM digital audio is defined by the sample rate (how many samples per second) which is measured in Hz (typically in the kiloHertz range) and the bit-depth (the number of potential amplitude values).
Bit-depth is described exponentially with base 2 so that 16-bit has 65,536 distinct values and 24-bit has 16,777,216 distinct amplitudes.
Pulse-Shift Keying Modulation
Unlike the CVSD and PCM types of analog-to-digital modulation, PSK modulation has to do with the wireless transmission of Bluetooth audio. In this section, we’ll describe how the audio signal modulates its wireless carrier signal.
As mentioned above, BT sends digital info wireless. Bluetooth audio is sent via pulse-shift keying modulation (PSK).
The PSK modulating signal is the digital audio of the paired device. This modulating signal modulates the phase of a fixed-frequency carrier wave. It does so by varying the sine and cosine inputs at a precise time.
The carrier wave, in the case of Bluetooth audio, is a radio frequency wave within the range of 2.4 and 2.485 GHz.
Bluetooth RF Range & Frequency Jumping Protocol
Bluetooth transmits digital information via short-range radio frequencies in the frequency band between 2.400 to 2.485 GHz. In the case of Bluetooth headphones, this information is the digital audio signal from a paired device.
Bluetooth uses 79 distinct frequencies within the 2.400 to 2.485 GHz to transmit information. It is capable of changing this frequency 1600 times per second in order to avoid interference with other Bluetooth connections.
It is unlikely that two transmitters will be on the same frequency at the same time. This minimizes the risk of interference between Bluetooth devices since any interference on a particular frequency will last only a tiny fraction of a second.
Bluetooth Distance Range
The range of Bluetooth connectivity is largely depending on its class. We’ve discussed the Bluetooth Classes earlier in this article.
Bluetooth headphones typically belong to either Class 2 (typical) which allows a range of 10 meters or 33 feet or Class 1 (less common) that allows a range of 100 meters or 328 feet.
There are other ranges available in Bluetooth technology (up to 244 meters/800 feet or more) though headphones generally have one of the two ranges listed above.
Most Bluetooth headphones have battery lives long enough to get you through a full day of listening. 6 – 20 hours of battery life is about the typical range. Of course, this varies from model to model.
As for the batteries of the audio devices, Bluetooth audio connectivity will drain the battery life of these audio devices. How much of an effect the headphones connection will have on the device battery depends on the device itself and its battery strength.
The Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology is not capable of sending audio.
Note that the shorter range Class 2 mentioned above has a maximum permitted power of 2.5 mW. The longer range Class 2, on the other hand, has a maximum permitted power of 100 mW.
The lower power consumption of the Class 2 headphones, in general, allows for longer battery life.
For more information on wireless headphones in general, check out my article How Do Wireless Headphones Work? + Bluetooth & True Wireless.
How Do Bluetooth Headsets Work?
Bluetooth headsets work very similarly to Bluetooth headphones with one notable difference: rather than only sending audio information one way (from the device to the headphones), headset communication has two-way transmission of audio.
The headphones portion of the headsets works the same way as Bluetooth headphones.
The microphones portion works similarly, only in reverse.
The Headset Profile is typically used when a headset (headphones + microphone) is connected via Bluetooth. This leads to poorer audio quality.
Note that microphones are inherently analog just like headphones. Their transduced signals, therefore, must be processed by an analog-to-digital converter via the HSP Profile (which may use CVSD or PCM encoding) .
The mic signal is then used to modulate the Bluetooth UHF carrier wave via PSK modulation so that it can be properly transmitted wirelessly via Bluetooth.
The receiver of the device then decodes the digital signal (from the radio carrier signal and then the HSP codec) before using the mic’s signal for the device’s own processes (which may or may not include converting it to analog for playback).
Bluetooth Headphone & Headset Examples
In addition to the Bluetooth headphones mentioned already, let’s have a look at a few more examples of headphones and headsets with Bluetooth capabilities.
The Bluetooth headphones and headsets we’ll discuss are:
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II
- Beats Solo 3
- Anker SoundBuds
- TaoTronics SoundLiberty 79
- SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth
- Plantronics Voyager Legend
- BlueParrott B450-XT
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is a circumaural (over-ear) closed-back Bluetooth 4.1 headphone with active noise-cancelling technology.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top Best Wireless Headphones Under $200
• Top Best Closed-Back Headphones Under $200
• Top Best Moving-Coil/Dynamic Headphones Under $200
• Top Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones Under $200
Related article: How Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work? (PNC & ANC)
Bose is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top Best Headphone Brands In The World
• Top Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World
• Top Best Headset Brands (Gaming, Aviation, Communication)
• Top Best Home Speaker Brands You Should Know And Use
• Top Best Loudspeaker Brands (Overall) On The Market Today
• Top Best PA Loudspeaker Brands You Should Know And Use
Beats Solo 3
The Beats Solo 3 (link to compare price on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) is a supra-aural (on-ear) closed-back Bluetooth 5 headphone with Class 1 connectivity.
The Beats Solo 3 is featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Supra-Aural (On-Ear) Headphones Under $250.
Beats is featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World.
The Anker SoundBuds (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth 4.1 earphone.
TaoTronics SoundLiberty 79
The TaoTronics SoundLiberty 79 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth 5.0 earphone with noise-cancelling technology.
The TaoTronics SoundLiberty 79 is featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Noise Cancelling Earphones Under $100.
SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth
The SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth gaming headset for Playstation, PC and other gaming systems.
SteelSeries is featured in My New Microphone’s Top Best Headset Brands (Gaming, Aviation, Communication).
Plantronics Voyager Legend
The Plantronics Voyager Legend (link to check the price on Amazon) is a single-ear Bluetooth earphone-type headset.
The BlueParrott B450-XT (link to check the price on Amazon) is a headband-worn single-driver Bluetooth headset.
How To Connect (Pair) Bluetooth Headphones To Bluetooth Audio Devices
What good are Bluetooth headphones if they aren’t paired to an audio device? In this section, we’ll go into detail about how to connect your Bluetooth headphones to a wide variety of audio sources.
Luckily, pairing Bluetooth headphones is pretty simple if the audio device in question has Bluetooth capabilities.
Even if the audio device doesn’t have inherent Bluetooth technology, there are adapters available to allow us to connect our BT headphones (more on these adapters later).
A Special Note On Pairing Bluetooth Headsets
The steps required to pair Bluetooth headsets pair with devices is pretty well the same as pairing Bluetooth headphones.
The big difference between headphones and headsets (other than headsets having a microphone) is that headsets use a different profile than headphones. The HSP (headset profile) is more efficient but has worse audio quality than the headphones’ A2SP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile).
Let’s begin with the headphones themselves and putting them in pairing mode.
How To Put Bluetooth Headphones In Pairing Mode
Bluetooth headphones will have a pairing button that must be pressed in order to make the headphones available for pairing. We must also ensure that the Bluetooth receiver inside the headphones is properly charged.
Some headphones will have a dedicated Bluetooth pairing button. Others will have their power button double as a pairing button. Other designs will automatically go into pairing mode when they’re powered up.
If you’re unsure about which switch/button to hit in order to engage pairing, consult the owner’s manual of the headphones. That being said, the pairing switch should be somewhat obvious if the headphones do not pair automatically.
The aforementioned Bose QuietComfort 35 II (link to compare prices on Amazon and B&H Photo/Video) headphone has its power switch double as the Bluetooth pairing toggle switch.
Here is the 35 II in off position:
Here it the 35 II in the on position.
Holding the toggle all the way to the left (relative to the pictures above) will engage pairing mode where the headphones will become discoverable to other devices.
The TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53 (link to check the price on Amazon) will immediately enter pairing mode when they are initially removed from their charger.
Placing them back into their charger will disconnect them from their source.
Once paired, the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53 earphones will automatically attempt to reconnect to their paired source when taken back out of their charger. If the device is unavailable (turned off, out of range or disconnected), the earphones will re-enter pairing mode to be paired with another device.
Now that we know how to make Bluetooth headphones discoverable, we have to look at the various devices that are made to “discover” the headphones.
In other words, how do we get our audio devices to connect specifically to our headphones?
Let’s have a look at the various audio devices the Bluetooth headphones commonly connect to and how to pair the devices together:
- Computer/Laptop Running Mac OS
- Computer/Laptop Running Windows OS
- Android Smartphone
- Smart TV
- Non-Bluetooth Devices (With Bluetooth Adapters)
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To A Computer/Laptop Running Mac OS
1. Make Your Mac OS Computer Discoverable
How to make a computer/laptop running Mac OS discoverable:
- System Preferences>Bluetooth
- Click “Turn Bluetooth On”
It should read “Now discoverable as “computer_name”“
2. Pair The Mac OS Computer With The Headphones
- System Preferences>Bluetooth
- Under Devices
- Click “Pair” next to “headphone_name”
3. Unpair/Disconnect The Mac OS Computer From The Headphones
- System Preferences>Bluetooth
- Under Devices
- Click the “x” next to “headphone_name”
- Click “Remove”
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To A Computer/Laptop Running Windows OS
The pairing process in Windows 10 is a two-way process. That is to say that both devices have to accept in order to be paired.
1. Make Your Windows OS Computer Discoverable
How to make a computer/laptop running Windows OS discoverable:
- Settings>Devices>Bluetooth>Manage Bluetooth Devices
- Click Turn Bluetooth On
It should read “Your PC is searching for and can be discovered by Bluetooth devices.”
2. Pair The Windows OS Computer With The Headphones
- Settings App>Devices>Bluetooth & Other Devices
- Click Add Bluetooth Or Other Device
- Click “headphone_name”
- Control Panel>Hardware And Sound>Devices And Printers
- Click Add A Device
- Click “headphone_name”
3. Unpair/Disconnect The Windows OS Computer From The Headphones
- Settings App>Devices>Bluetooth & Other Devices
- Click “headphone_name”
- Click “Remove Device”
- Click “Yes”
For more information on headphones and computers, check out my article Are Headphones Input Or Output Devices?
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To An iPhone
1. Make Your iPhone Discoverable
- Tap “Turn Bluetooth On”
Alternatively, swipe up or down (depending on the iPhone model) to open the Control Center and tap the Bluetooth icon to turn it on (it will light up with a blue background).
It should read “Now discoverable as “iPhone’s name”” in the Settings>Bluetooth page.
2. Pair The iPhone With The Headphones
- Under My Devices or Other Devices
- Tap “headphone_name”
The connected headphones should be labelled as “Connected”.
3. Unpair/Disconnect The iPhone From The Headphones
- Under My Devices
- Tap the “i” next to “headphone_name”
- Tap “Forget This Device”
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To An Android Smartphone
1. Make Your Android Smartphone Discoverable
Alternatively, swipe down from the top of the screen to open the Notification Panel. Swipe down again to open Quick Settings and tap on the Bluetooth icon to turn it on (it will light up with a blue background).
2. Pair The Android Smartphone With The Headphones
- Settings App>Connected Devices>Pair New Device
- Tap “headphone_name”
- Tap the checkbox to “Allow access to your contacts and call history.”
- Tap “Pair”
3. Unpair/Disconnect The Android Smartphone From The Headphones
- Settings App>Connected Devices
- Tap the gear icon next to the “headphone_name”
- Tap “Forget”
- Tap “Forget Device”
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To Playstation
1. Make Your Playstation Discoverable
The PS4 is always discoverable
2. Pair The Playstation With The Headphones
Playstations have supported headphones but can also be connected to unsupported headphones. Let’s discuss each here.
- Settings>Devices>Bluetooth Devices
- Select “headphone_name”
You must connect the headphones to the controller vie wire. This technically connects the headphones to the PS with Bluetooth though it is through the controller rather that straight from the headphones.
- Settings>Devices>Bluetooth Devices
- Select “headphone_name”
- Navigate back to Settings>Devices>Audio Devices
- Select “Output Device”
- Select “Headset Connected to Controller”
- Adjust volume using “Volume Control (Headphones)”
- Select “Output to Headphones”
- Select “All Audio”
3. Unpair/Disconnect The Playstation From The Headphones
- Dashboard>Settings>Devices>Bluetooth Devices
- Select “headphone_name”
- Select “Disconnect”
- Select “Confirm”
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To Xbox
Unfortunately, Xbox One does not have Bluetooth functionality.
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To A Smart TV
Televisions have been around much longer than Bluetooth technology. That being said, many of the new “smart” TVs on the market that have Bluetooth technology and will easily pair to Bluetooth headphones.
There are many different smart TV framework platforms managed by various individual companies. Each framework may have a slightly different menu path to connect Bluetooth headphones.
If your TV came with a Smart Remote, it supports Bluetooth. That’s is, after all, how Smart Remotes pair to smart TVs.
If the TV does not have Smart Remote, you may be able to find Bluetooth connectivity options in the menu settings. Otherwise, check the TVs manual.
If your TV has Bluetooth functionality, pairing headphones can be done by following these steps:
1. Make Your Smart TV Discoverable
Smart TVs are typically always discoverable.
2. Pair The Smart TV With The Headphones
- Settings>Sound>Sound Output
- Select “headphone_name”
- Select “Okay”
3. Unpair/Disconnect The Smart TV From The Headphones
- Settings>Sound>Sound Output
- Select “headphone_name”
- Select “Unpair”
- Select “Okay”
How To Connect/Pair Bluetooth Headphones To A Non-Bluetooth Device (Bluetooth Adapters)
There are plenty of devices that output audio that could benefit from Bluetooth connectivity. Many newer devices have Bluetooth capabilities built into their design. However, many do not.
So how do we connect out Bluetooth headphones to an audio device that does not have Bluetooth? You’ll need a Bluetooth adapter/transmitter.
These adapters connect to the devices and effectively transmit the devices’ audio signals wirelessly using Bluetooth’s standard protocols.
Let’s have a look at a few examples of Bluetooth adapters/transmitters:
The 1Mii USB-A Bluetooth 5.0 Adapter (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth adapter that connects via digital USB-A and works on Bluetooth version 5.0.
The TP-Link USB-A UB400 Bluetooth 4.0 Adapter (link to check the price on Amazon) is another Bluetooth adapter that connects via digital USB-A. It works on Bluetooth version 4.0.
The TaoTronics TT-BA07 (link to check the price on Amazon) works on Bluetooth version 5.0 and the low-latency aptX codec. It connects to analog headphone jacks via a 3.5mm TRS plug. This adapter can act as either a transmitter or a receiver and can connect to two devices simultaneously.
The Aluratek ABC02F (link to check the price on Amazon) is another Bluetooth receiver and transmitter. This device works on Bluetooth 4.0 and can pair with 2 Bluetooth headphones simultaneously in the transmitter mode. It has a 3.5mm; optical in and optical out, and a USB-C connector.
The 1Mii 2020 Expert (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth transmitter capable of connecting to two headphones at once. It has RCA, optical, 3.5mm and USB connectivity and works on AptX low-latency Bluetooth codec.
Reconnecting Bluetooth Headphones
Most Bluetooth headphones will automatically re-pair with the device they were most recently paired with when they are powered up, provided that the device is available for pairing and in Bluetooth range.
That being said, there are some headphones that will need to be manually re-paired every time you power them up.
Though this may be annoying, it is quite simple to re-pair the devices.
You just have to follow the steps necessary to pair the headphones to the device in question. See the section above (How To Connect (Pair) Bluetooth Headphones To Bluetooth Audio Devices) to find out how to connect Bluetooth headphones to various devices.
In the odd case that you have to re-pair the headphones, you usually won’t have to put the headphones in pairing mode to reconnect them.
There should be memory of the device after the initial pairing process.
Unpairing (Forgetting) Bluetooth Headphones
Unpairing the Bluetooth headphones could be as easy as turning the headphones off or turning the device off.
However, for the audio devive to unpair from or “forget” the Bluetooth headphones, we must get into the Bluetooth menu of the device andhit the disconnect/forget button.
Note that, once forgotten, the headphones will eventually show back up in the Bluetooth device pairing options. It may take some time but we can also reconnect the headphones to the device later.
For more specific advice on forgetting headphones in common Bluetooth devices, check out the previous section How To Connect (Pair) Bluetooth Headphones To Bluetooth Audio Devices.
How To Connect Non-Bluetooth Headphones To Bluetooth Sources
Sometimes we’re in the situation where we really love a pair of headphones that do not have built-in Bluetooth connectivity.
How do we effectively turn wired headphones (or RF or IR wireless headphones) into Bluetooth wireless headphones? The answer is with a Bluetooth wireless receiver.
A Bluetooth receiver will effectively accept the wirelessly transmitted audio from a Bluetooth transmitter or audio device. By pluggin our wired headphones into a receiver, the audio signal can be transferred from the receiver to the drivers of the headphones.
Of course, this isn’t a completely wireless set up but it at least removes the wire between the headphone and the audio device.
Let’s have a look at some Bluetooth receivers.
The FiiO μBTR (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth reciever that supports Bluetooth 4.1 as well as the aptX, SBC, and AAC audio codecs. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a built-in microphone with independent volume control for voice calls.
EarStudio ES100 Mk2
The EarStudio ES100 Mk2 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth receiver with SBC, aptX, AAC and aptX HD codecs. It has a 3.5mm unbalanced & 2.5mm balanced output for different wired headphone connections.
How To Connect Multiple Bluetooth Headphones To A Single Audio Source
As we’ve discussed earlier, for the sake of backward compatibility, default Bluetooth connections will not allow a device to connect to two BT headphones simultaneously.
However, Bluetooth splitters allows us to effectively pair multiple headphoens to a single audio source.
Let’s have a look at a couple of Bluetooth splitter examples:
The TROND BT-DUO (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth 4.1 splitter and transmitter/receiver with aptX & aptX Low Latency codecs.
Its 3.5mm headphone jack allows the BT-DUO to connect to a single source and transmit the audio to two paired devices. Alternatively, the BT-DUO can connect to wired headphones and act as a BT receiver.
The TaoTronics TT-BA014 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a Bluetooth 5.0 transmitter/receiver desktop unit capable of pairing with 3 separate Bluetooth headphones simultaneously.
Can you use Bluetooth headphones on a plane? The official global rule states that Bluetooth devices that are larger than a smartphone and/or unable to function on flight mode are not allowed to be used during flights. The use of short-range Bluetooth headphones and earphones is, therefore, permitted during flight.
Related article: Are Microphones Allowed On Airplanes? (Checking And Carryon)
Will leaving Bluetooth on all the time drain the batteries of my devices? Since the Bluetooth Low Energy was incorporated into Bluetooth 4.0, it has dropped power consumption to the point where many Bluetooth pairings that periodically exchange small amounts of data (tracking apps, for example) use up a negligible amount of battery. Connecting to headphones, however, takes up more energy and should be unpaired/disconnected when not in use.